ISLAMABAD A passenger jet that officials suspect veered off course in monsoon rains and thick clouds crashed into hills overlooking Pakistans capital Wednesday, killing all 152 people on board and scattering body parts and twisted metal far and wide.
The Airblue jets crash was the deadliest ever in Pakistan, and just the latest tragedy to jolt a country that has suffered numerous deaths in recent years because of al-Qaida and Taliban attacks. At least two U.S. citizens were on the plane, which carried mostly Pakistanis.
The plane left the southern city of Karachi at 7:45 a.m. for a two-hour flight to Islamabad and was trying to land when it lost contact with the control tower, said Pervez George, a civil aviation official. Airblue is a private airline based in Karachi, Pakistans largest city.
The aircraft, an Airbus A321, crashed about 10 miles from the airport, scorching a wide stretch of the Margalla Hills, including a section behind Faisal Mosque, one of Islamabads most prominent landmarks. Twisted metal wreckage hung from trees and lay scattered across the ground. Smoke rose from the scene as helicopters hovered.
The exact cause of the crash was not immediately clear, and rescue workers were seeking the black box flight data recorder amid the wreckage. But Defense Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar said the government did not suspect terrorism.
Rescue workers and citizen volunteers were hampered by the rain, mud and rugged terrain. The crash was so severe it would have been nearly impossible for any of the 146 passengers and six crew members to survive, rescue officials said.
There is nothing left, just piles and bundles of flesh. There are just some belongings, like two or three traveling bags, some checkbooks, and I saw a picture of a young boy. Otherwise everything is burned, rescue worker Murtaza Khan said.
As the government declared today would be a day of mourning and condolences poured in from the U.S., Britain and other nations, hundreds of people showed up at Islamabads largest hospital and the airport seeking information on loved ones.
They swarmed ambulances reaching the hospital, but their hopes fell as rescue workers unloaded bags filled with body parts. A large cluster of people also surrounded a passenger list posted near the Airblue counter at the airport.
We dont know who survived, who died, who is injured, said Zulfikar Ghazi, who lost four relatives. We are in shock.
Mirza Ahmed Baig rushed to the hills after hearing that the plane carrying his brother had crashed. He wept amid the chilly weather, criticizing the rescue effort as too little and too lax.
Im not satisfied at all on the steps the government is taking, Baig said.
As of Wednesday night, when rescue work was suspended until this morning, 115 bodies had been recovered, federal Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira said. DNA tests would be needed to identify most of them, he said.
U.S. Embassy spokesman Richard Snelsire confirmed that at least two American citizens were on board, but he declined to provide any further information on their identities or links to Pakistan.
In the U.S., Paulette Kirksey said that her godmother, Rosie Ahmed of Gadsden, Alabama, and her husband, Saleem Ahmed, were among those on the plane. Rose Ahmed was in Pakistan to make arrangements for him to move to the United States, Kirksey said. She said Rosie Ahmed was in her late 50s.